WELLS — Amelia Tuplin’s charges of offensive and racially demeaning behavior at a high school football game last fall prompted the Wells-Ogunquit School Committee to begin reviewing its use of Native American imagery. On Wednesday, she had a simple, powerful message for the Mascot Advisory Committee that was formed as a result of her complaint.

“The removal and eradication of Native American mascots needs to start here, in public schools,” said Tuplin, a Micmac who lives in Lisbon. “This is not the correct way to be teaching our children, by continuing to support false imagery of indigenous people.”

The advisory committee, formed in November, plans to make a recommendation to the School Committee in April about whether it should eliminate, change or keep its current Warriors mascot. The next meeting is scheduled for Feb. 14, with the emphasis on planning for a future public forum and designing a student survey.

“The removal and eradication of Native American mascots needs to start here, in public schools,” says Amelia Tuplin, a Micmac who lives in Lisbon. Staff photo by Steve Craig

Earlier in the day, the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine called for the retirement of the Wells High mascot because the team name and logo “perpetuate damaging Native American stereotypes.”

“Wells has indicated an openness and willingness to listen,” said Emma Bond, the ACLU of Maine’s staff attorney. “It’s really a moment in time to move forward and get on the right side of history.”

The Warrior head mascot is common around the school and on apparel. It is not used on game uniforms. Usually the mascot is portrayed as a stoic male with braids and a headdress shown in profile. The school’s marching band uses a caricature of a shirtless Native American with a tomahawk on its equipment van and sweatshirts and jackets.

Tuplin and eight other Native Americans from Maine, representing several tribes, were invited to speak to the committee. Often drawing on personal experiences, the panelists told the committee how appropriation of Native American imagery, as happens in Wells, has made them feel dismayed, angry or uncomfortable.

Josh Tuplin, 29, the nephew of Amelia Tuplin, told harrowing stories about the deprivation and prejudicial treatment his grandmother Hazel Tuplin faced throughout her life. Now an assistant men’s basketball coach at Southern Maine Community College, Josh Tuplin said he understands and values the passion and school spirit that swirls around high school athletics.

“But we are not mascots. Mascots are good luck charms,” he said. “When I speak of my grandmother I will never, ever utter the words that she was a good-luck charm. She deserved a much higher level of respect than that.”

Amelia Tuplin brought the issue of the school’s mascot to statewide attention after she attended Lisbon’s Oct. 13 football game at Wells. Tuplin said fans mocked Native Americans by wearing war paint and feathered headdresses, and by making chants and beating drums.

After an internal investigation, Wells’ fans were absolved of inappropriate behavior by district Superintendent James Daly. At that time, Daly said the school would begin a review of its mascot, which led to the formation of the Mascot Advisory Committee.

“The mascot issue, whether it came up (against) Lisbon in October, it would have come up some time,” Daly made a point of telling the committee.

He referenced how on Monday the Cleveland Indians, under pressure from Major League Baseball, announced they would drop their “Chief Wahoo” logo starting in 2019.

“Our logo has pride to us, but it’s not attached to a billion-dollar logo design,” Daly said. “So if they’re at the point where they’re willing to change that, to think that it wouldn’t come back to Wells and having people ask us to do the same, or considering to do the same, I think that would be naive.”

‘NOT AN HONOR’ TO NATIVE PEOPLE

Barry Dana, a former chief of the Penobscot Nation, is a veteran of the mascot debate. After a brief lesson in how easily some communities or schools have eliminated their Native American logos or nicknames, Dana laid out what will happen in the future.

Barry Dana: “The bottom line is as long as your community, your school, your teams, your administration, your logos made use of Native symbols, this issue will remain.” Staff photo by Steve Craig

“The bottom line is as long as your community, your school, your teams, your administration, your logos made use of Native symbols, this issue will remain,” he said. “It doesn’t matter how much you honor Native people in this effort. It’s not an honor.”

One justification for continued use of the current logo is that it was approved of by longtime Wells’ resident Leslie Ranco, a Penobscot who opened the Indian Moccasin Shop on Route 1 with his wife, Valentine, in 1949.

Committee member Tim Roche, a town selectman and the high school football coach, asked the Rancos’ granddaughter, Barbara (Ranco) Giammarino, how he could respond to townspeople who believe Leslie Ranco gave his permission for Wells to have an Indian-themed mascot.

“We were not welcome here as much as you might think,” Giammarino said. “We were taught, ‘Don’t do or say anything that will offend the town because we’ll get run out of the town.'”

The meeting was primarily one of the Native American guests speaking and the committee politely listening, with a few questions at the end.

However, Amelia Tuplin’s decision to reiterate that she felt her initial grievances were dismissed too quickly and the school’s investigation was biased did produce some heated exchanges.

When Tuplin had finished her prepared statement, which emphasized the sacred importance of headdresses and drums to Native Americans, committee member Karen Tufts challenged her for bringing up the events at the football game.

“I’m disappointed that you had many opportunities to answer and speak with (Daly) and you’re doing it now in a public forum,” Tufts said.

RETRACTING SOME STATEMENTS

A brief exchange about what did or didn’t happen at the game followed between Tuplin and Tufts, which was halted and redirected by Daly.

Later in the meeting, Tuplin allowed that “out of pure emotion,” she may have taken some of the actions she saw out of context that night, adding that she would like to retract her initial statements on social media that she felt she and her son, the Lisbon quarterback, were specifically and racially targeted.

After the meeting, both Tuplin and Tufts indicated it was probably good to have one last recap of the incident that was the catalyst for the review process, even if the two sides continue to disagree about what happened on Oct. 13. Plus, for the first time, members of the Wells community were meeting face-to-face with Tuplin.

“I think it’s a great dialogue and I’m humbled as well,” Tuplin said. “I’m not angry anymore. I think I’ve been angry since that night and I’m excited to hear that they want to be educated and have an open conversation.”

Tufts expressed gratitude that Tuplin retracted her initial statements.

“I’m glad she came because I actually feel better after speaking with her and hearing some of her retraction because that’s what I’ve really felt as a person who was at the game, standing on the Lisbon side, and I really questioned the validity of her accusations because I was there,” Tufts said.

Steve Craig can be contacted at 791-6413 or at:

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